- The Washington Times
Thursday, January 3, 2019

Thomas Bryant could feel the difference.

When the second-year center moved into the Wizards’ starting lineup in late November, he was tasked to play around 20 minutes per game — give or take on the night.

But in a 114-98 win Wednesday over the Atlanta Hawks, Bryant played a career-high 39 minutes.

“You go from playing from playing a little bit to a lot, you can feel the difference real fast,” Thomas said with a smile.

There’s a good reason Bryant, however, has seen an uptick in playing time — and it’s not just because of injuries.

In a Wizards season derailed partially by a lack of effort, the 21-year-old consistently has done the opposite — bringing a much-needed spark to the Wizards by doing “the little things.” He rolls hard to the rim. He grabs rebounds. He protects the paint.

Though he’s still a work in progress, Bryant often fuels the Wizards in stretches.

On Wednesday, star Bradley Beal’s offensive burst allowed the Wizards to pull away from the Hawks in the fourth quarter. But just as important, Bryant was active on the defensive end.

“We feed off the energy he gives us,” Beal said. “I tell everyone his [trash]-talking, whatever he does out there gives us going. I need him to keep doing it.”

Bryant wasn’t in this position a year ago.

A second-round pick in 2017, the Indiana product was traded on draft night from the Utah Jazz to the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant, though, spent the entire season in the developmental G League and by the summer, Los Angeles waived him in July.

The Wizards claimed Bryant off waivers, though they didn’t expect him to have this type of role. Washington, after all, signed Dwight Howard in free agency and also had Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith as big men.

Those plans backfired. Howard is out while recovering from back surgery. The team traded Smith, then out of the rotation, to Cleveland in December. Mahinmi also rides the bench.

Even Markieff Morris, who plays center in smaller lineups, is now out for the next six weeks with a neck injury, the team announced Thursday.

When on the floor, Bryant’s efficiency has helped the Wizards. He scored 16 points against the Hawks, shooting 5-of-7 from the field. And 10 days ago against the Phoenix Suns, Bryant made all 14 of his shots — joining a short-list that includes Wilt Chamberlin as the only other players to have done so.

Bryant is shooting 66 percent from the field and averaging 8.4 points per game.

Coach Scott Brooks said Bryant’s activity is what stands out.

“He’s really improving as the season has gone on,” Brooks said. “He’s getting some opportunities. He’s earned it. He’s playing well. We’re going to continue to need it.”

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